Word Count: 3375
Author's Notes: Thanks to my beta for assuring me that this works outside my own head. Title shamelessly stolen from the Decemberists song Red Right Ankle.
Summary: A career-ending injury has unexpected consequences for Percy and Oliver.
It's been ten years since we left Hogwarts, and Oliver and I still have dinner together every Tuesday night. Ten years, through girlfriends—mostly Oliver's—and breakups and new girlfriends—still mostly Oliver's. Ten years, during which Oliver broke his leg irreparably and I started finding grey hairs. He makes fun of my premature greys and I make fun of his limp. It balances out.
Oliver stumps into the Three Broomsticks and waves to Rosmerta, then spots me in the back corner booth and makes his way over to me, pausing twice to steady himself on chairs along the way. I feel guilt wash over me—I should have chosen a table nearer the front of the pub. I wasn't thinking.
"Why don't we do this more often?" he asks by way of greeting.
"Familiarity breeds contempt," I quip, and I sip from my pint.
"Contempt, my arse," he says, shifting in his seat, "Wasn't much contempt between us during school."
I consider this. "Except for the time you tried to punch me in the face. And the time we were practicing defencive spells and you hexed me before I was ready. And the time during seventh year when—"
"All right," he says, cutting me off, "But we were always mates, weren't we? Still are. Grey hairs and all. Right?"
I nod. Whatever this is all about, I know that Oliver will tell me. He always does, eventually. Patience is a virtue I learned from living with Oliver. (And my brothers, I suppose, but Oliver really reinforced it.)
"Grey hairs and lame legs and all," I reply.
"Twit. Let's order dinner." I flag down the waitress, and we do.
After dinner, Oliver takes out a cigarette and lights it without using his wand. He's being a show-off, and I wave away the thin stream of smoke he blows in my direction.
"Filthy habit," I comment, as I always do.
He agrees, nodding, then leans forward. "Perce," he says, "Why don't you move in with me?"
I laugh, but it's not funny. I'm more surprised than anything else.
"Shall I list the reasons?" I start ticking them off on my fingers. "One: I like my privacy. Two: I like my flat. Three: I lived with you for seven years in the dormitory. Which leads me to Four: You're not exactly—"
He cuts me off again. "Right, well, I understand all that." He sits back in his chair and takes a long drag from his cigarette, then blows the smoke towards the ceiling. Looking up, he continues. "I'm not getting around so well lately," he says, and his voice is casual, belying the shame I know he's feeling from having to confess this. He clears his throat and shifts, looking somewhere over my left shoulder, and I pause before I speak.
"Couldn't you get a Mediwitch or something? One of those home helper types?"
He slams his hand on the table, and I jump. "Fucking hell, Perce, if I wanted a Mediwitch, I'd get a Mediwitch. It's not like I can't fucking afford it." He scowls, his forehead creasing, and I swallow and start to speak, but he jumps in again. "No, listen. Listen. I'm sick of having to swallow potions just so I feel good enough to come out and meet you here. I'm sick of sleeping on the sofa just because it's closer to the bathroom then my bed is. I'm sick of sitting at home being bored because I can't stand the thought of going out and having people stare at me." He raises his voice on these last words and gives two girls at the next table a pointed look.
"Have they been staring?" I ask.
"They are not the point. But yes, they have. People don't speak to fucked-up former Quidditch stars, Perce. They stare and talk behind their hands and wonder."
I move in.
It's a Saturday when I take all my things over, two weeks after Oliver slammed his hand on the table and embarrassed those girls in the Three Broomsticks. He tries to help, but his leg is particularly bad, and I order him to stay on the sofa and be still. It's not as if I can't use magic.
He says he's sorry my bedroom's so small, and I tell him to stop apologising, because I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be. Oh, I miss my flat, I do, with its sunny little kitchen and its perfect location, close to everything I could want, but if Oliver's asking for help, I suppose he must really need it. Oliver doesn't ask for help as a general rule.
He sits on the sofa and lights a cigarette and I stand in the doorway and frown. "Not inside, please." Oliver makes a face and limps to the doors that lead to his—our—little balcony.
This is going to take some adjustment.
It's been ten years and two months since we left Hogwarts, and Oliver and I are still adjusting to living together. We've got a routine, but there are still awkward moments, like the day Oliver found he couldn't get up from his bath. I'd seen him naked before, in the dormitory at school, but this was different, intimate and wet and painful on both our parts. My heart hurts for him when things like that happen. I'll never tell that to him—or anyone—but it does.
I do research. I tell him he should have had his leg set the Muggle way, that he shouldn't smoke as it affects healing.
He tells me to fuck off, that he's as healed as he'll ever be and that I needn't waste my time with those books. I should come and sit on the sofa with him, he says, come and bring some beers over and watch the Muggle telly-vision. It's not my favourite activity, but Oliver likes it, and, I am starting to realise, I like Oliver.
I like Oliver.
I've always liked him, but this is different. We've always been mates, but I think the proximity is messing about with my head and my hormones, because I can't stop thinking about Oliver sometimes.
Sometimes I think about that time I had to help him out of the bath and I have to excuse myself.
It's getting embarrassing.
At night, he wakes sometimes and needs the loo and I lie awake and listen to him clumping his way there and I think about offering to help—not help use the loo, as that's a bit perverted, but help him get there. I'd do it. He has no idea that I'll help him get anywhere or do anything if he just asks.
That's the thing—he has to ask. I'm not going to make a fool of myself. Oliver's my friend and my flatmate, and maybe the swarms of girls have dropped off a bit since he doesn't play Quidditch anymore, but I'm fairly certain he'd still welcome them if they did.
I don't know if this newfound interest in Oliver makes me queer, or if it just means that I like Oliver, but I'm fairly sure he's not queer. Seriously, if I had to make a list of the blokes from our year at school in order of queerness, I'd put him last. After Flint, even.
They'd probably all put me first.
"I've found you a job," I say, and Oliver makes a noise halfway between a grunt and a snort. I frown. "What?"
"I don't want a bloody job. I've still got time left on my contract with the League." He continues reading the newspaper, and I sit next to him on the sofa.
"Time which is running out," I point out. "It's been nearly a year since your injury, and they're not obligated to pay you beyond that."
He's in a mood. He often is. I sort of want to touch him, maybe put my hand on his shoulder, but I don't dare. Instead I bite my lip and lean forward to pluck another section of the paper from the coffee table.
"If you don't want the job I've found," I say, "There're plenty in here." I wave the section of the paper at him.
"Right, let me say it again. I don't want any bloody job."
"I know you don't," I snap. Maybe Oliver was the one who taught me patience, but he's really testing it at the moment. "I make a good salary at the Ministry, but you're going to have to help out somehow." I bite my lip before I can say that maybe he could take his bloody pain potion once in a while so he could at least do some of the tidying up.
"What, like take my bloody pain potion once in a while so I can at least do some of the tidying up? That what you had in mind?"
I give him a sharp look, but his expression isn't sarcastic.
"Yes," I say, schooling my features into a more appropriate expression, "Like that."
He takes a big swig of beer from the bottle he's holding between his thighs, then folds the paper over and tosses it onto the coffee table. "I'll tell you the truth, Perce. I'll tell you why I don't like to take that stuff for pain."
I expect he'll say it tastes awful or something equally childish, but what he says next surprises me. Oliver never really stops surprising me, actually.
"I can't, ah," he says, then pauses and gestures to his groin. "I can't get it up when I take it."
I feel my cheeks go a little red. I've never been comfortable talking about sex. I don't want to say that there's really no reason for him to avoid that particular side effect anymore, but I don't want to kick Oliver when he's down.
"I see," is all I say.
"No, you don't," he says. "You don't see. I may not have a girlfriend or anything like that anymore, but I still like to wank once in a while, you know? And, who knows, maybe I'll crawl into your bed one night and surprise you. Haven't seen any birds coming 'round for you lately, either."
I swallow hard and try to smile in an indulgent way, but I'm afraid it comes off wrong, because Oliver raises an eyebrow.
"What, you'd like that?"
I regain my ability to speak and shake my head hard. "No! I mean, not, not that you're not, you know, but I don't, that is I've never. Okay." I take a breath. "I don't sleep with men."
"Which is it, Perce, you don't or you've never? Because those are two entirely different things."
I waver. "Both," I finally say, and I get up and go into the kitchen to start dinner.
We haven't talked about sex or beds or girlfriends or pain potions since that evening. Naturally, Oliver is the one to bring it up again.
"There's another potion I could take," he says over lunch on Saturday afternoon. I put down my sandwich half and take a long drink of milk, then finally look at him.
"Another pain potion, do you mean?"
"Right. It's just that it's questionably legal, and so I'd have to get it through, well, questionable sources." He pops a crisp in his mouth and chews. He's waiting for my reaction. I know he is. I vow I won't react.
"Good luck, then," I say, and I go back to my sandwich. I don't want to get mixed up with something Oliver defines as 'questionably legal'.
"It wouldn't have the side effect that this one does. If I took it, I could get around better. I could get a job. And I could still—" He makes an indecent hand gesture and eats another crisp.
"You wouldn't need me, then," I say, and I take another bite of my sandwich.
Oliver opens his mouth, then closes it again.
I could have my flat back. I could have my life back. I could forget all about Oliver wet and helpless in the bath, could forget about the possibility of Oliver making his way into my bedroom, into my bed. Suddenly, 'questionably legal' doesn't sound so bad.
"I'll firecall Charlie," I say. "He's good at this sort of thing."
I don't look at Oliver for the rest of lunch.
Oliver goes to visit his mother the next day.
I move out.
Oliver hasn't shown up for two consecutive Tuesdays, and still I find myself once again sitting at a table in the Three Broomsticks, ignoring my pint and hoping, probably in vain, that this time he'll show.
And he does.
He's still limping—he always will, he's told me before—but his face is bright and it brightens even more when he sees me.
"Chose a table near the front this time, I see. I appreciate that as I'm still a bit slow. Oh—" He flags down the waitress. "Pint of bitter. Ta."
I don't say anything. I didn't expect this. I'm not even really sure why I'm here, let alone why Oliver is grinning at me. He lights a cigarette, twirls it between his fingers, exhales.
"Got the new potion," he says.
"That explains the grin, then," I reply. "Been too busy shagging to keep a date?" I almost regret the words as they pass my lips, but it's too late.
Oliver's face falls.
"Fuck, I should've owled. It made me right ill at first. Couldn't leave the bloody flat." The waitress arrives with his pint at that moment, and he pauses to take a long drink, then looks up at me through his lashes, his head half-bowed. "Could have used you then."
I snort. "Used me. Fantastic." I do regret those words.
He is about to say something, but pauses and knits his brow. "Wait. Perce. You think I was using you all that time?"
I wave my hand as if to wave away the question. "Never mind. Are you hungry?" I pick up the menu card. If I pretend everything is normal, then perhaps it will be. Of course, that plan hasn't exactly worked out for me in the past, but a man can hope.
"I am, but that's not the point at the moment." He takes a drag from his cigarette and wipes his other hand across his eyes before he exhales. "You moved out," he finally says.
"Why, Perce? Thought we were getting on well."
I don't have a good answer for this. I pull my pint towards myself and take a sip. The fizz is half-gone and it's a bit warm.
"I could have used you," he says again, "As a friend. As a—you helped me, Perce. A lot. It didn't make sense when I came back from my mum's and you were gone, but I figured you'd turn up eventually with an explanation. You always have an explanation."
I shake my head. "I don't have an explanation," I say.
Not one I can give him, at least.
I don't mean to go back to Oliver's flat after dinner, but he asks and I do. There's a layer of dust on everything and there are blankets and a pillow on the sofa.
"You really have been ill," I say, surveying the room. It smells a little too human. I move to open a window.
"I told you I have," he says. He tugs off his jacket and slings it at the sofa.
It's as if no time has passed—I still know where everything is kept, and I pour two Firewhiskies and hand one to Oliver without his asking. He clinks his glass against mine and takes a swallow.
"So, are you seeing someone?" he asks out of nowhere.
"No, I'm not seeing anyone." I pause, sip at my drink. "Why?" We stand awkwardly in the middle of the room, a little too close together, but I can't move away without the awkwardness level increasing.
He shakes his head. "I guess I'm still trying to figure out why you moved out. You don't just do that, Perce, not without at least having the decency to give a bloke an explanation."
Oliver let it go at the pub, but he won't now that we're alone. I've seen that look on his face before. And I know he's right.
There's a light breeze coming in through the window, and I turn towards it, away from Oliver. I don't have a choice—I have to tell him something, and I'm no good at coming up with lies quickly. And so I tell him the truth.
When I've finished, I put my Firewhisky down and steel myself for whatever is coming—a punch, a hex, cold words, Oliver's hasty exit. Instead, there is silence, stretching on for what seems like an eternity. I bite my lip and turn around.
Oliver is staring at me.
"Okay," he finally says, and when I nod and say that I should go, he shakes his head and picks up my drink and presses it into my hand and tells me to stay.
It's been ten years and five months since we left Hogwarts, and I've moved back in with Oliver. After my confession that night, things weren't as strained as I expected they might be. Things aren't much different, except that I notice Oliver's a little more careful now about nudity. I've told him I'm not a poof, assured him it was only due to proximity and to my not having had a shag for quite some time.
I hope that didn't come off as insulting.
He's not ill anymore, and he's agreed to start a job in Magical Games and Sports. It's in the Ludicrous Patents Office, which maybe isn't what he set out to do, but I think he'll do well. He's even bought new robes for his first day. I think he's excited, though he'd never say as much.
"Come here," I say, "Your tie's a bit crooked." He rolls his eyes, but he lets me fix it, and as I'm wondering exactly what sort of knot he's attempted, Oliver takes a breath and braces one hand against my chest and kisses me.
The kiss is almost chaste, just a press of lips upon lips, and at first I can't do anything because I am frozen in shock, but he melts me. He pulls me closer and I shudder and I open my mouth against his, just a little, just out of pure instinct.
Oliver opens his mouth, too, and there is the lightest touch of tongue before it is gone and Oliver pulls away, leaving me gasping.
I have a thousand things to say and I can't say any of them. Oliver's still touching me, one arm around my back and one fist still grabbing my robes. My hands are still at his tie and I find I can't move them.
"Why—" I finally manage.
"I've been thinking about what you said."
I almost laugh. I would if I weren't so shocked. "Clearly."
He doesn't laugh. His gaze doesn't move from mine. "I want to try," he says, and he kisses me again.
"We'll be late to work," I murmur against his lips. My mind is racing. I cannot do this. I've inured myself against the possibility of this ever happening.
"I never did have very good timing," he murmurs back.
I'm shaking. I can't go to work in this condition. But it's Oliver's first day, and I can't let him be late.
We lie together in bed, sated, lazily stroking skin. We've vowed to worry about this later, to figure out if this means we're queer or just queer for each other. I close my eyes and concentrate on Oliver, breathing in the scent of him that fills my senses. It's almost 'later' and I don't want to give this up just yet.